Cleveland still has a shot

“Michael Jordan says that you always miss the shot you don’t take.”

That’s from fictional Cleveland private eye Milan Jacovich, on the final page of the Les Roberts book, “A Shoot In Cleveland.”

Really, the 1998 mystery novel could have been called “A Shot In Cleveland” an homage to Jordan’s buzzer-beating shot 20 years ago against the Cavaliers in Game 5 of the first round of the playoffs.

Ah, but that may have been far too cruel to further immortalize an especially humbling moment for a Cleveland populace already punished for years by sports gods (the Drive, the Fumble, the Willie Mays catch) and impetuous team owners.


“The Michael Jordan shot was the Michael Jordan shot -- leave it alone. Let it die,” said Chris Fluker, a lifelong resident, who, at 29, is old enough to remember the deed.

The recent executioner should have been, by all accounts, LeBron James of the Cavaliers.

James made a remarkable three-point buzzer-beater to tie the Eastern Conference finals against Orlando, 1-1, last week in Game 2.

“That guy is not in the league anymore,” a smiling James said of Jordan. “The other three is on the good side now. That other three is gone.”


Uh, not quite.

Karma dialed in for one night before it turned into a chameleon for Cleveland. The Magic won the next two games at home.

(Get those Dwight Howard puppets with the Superman cape ready.)

On Thursday night, Cleveland staved off playoff elimination at home in Game 5, and at least for the moment, the heated speculation regarding LeBron’s travel plans (East?) when he becomes a free agent in 2010.

The Cavaliers won, 112-102, and the series moves to Orlando for Game 6 tonight.

Long ago, before the conference finals, there was a sense of inevitability about a meeting in the NBA Finals with the Lakers. Cavaliers flags flew deep in LeBron country, in Peninsula, in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, not terribly far from where James grew up in Akron and there was more talk about Kobe Bryant than Howard and Co.

About the only place where there was a serious lack of Cavaliers paraphernalia was at the India.Arie concert at the Cleveland House of Blues, which happened to be the night before Game 7 of the Magic-Celtics series.

“Certainly there’s been a buzz with the Cavs,” said IMG agent Tony Godsick, who represents tennis star Roger Federer and is a longtime Cleveland resident. “Any time you have a winning franchise that’s getting national attention, it drips down to the local. And you have a lot of pride.


“The whole world is watching what’s happening here in Cleveland. LeBron is the big man on campus and this is a really nice campus.”

But the joyous optimism of last week has been replaced by wariness in the businesses not far from Quicken Loans Arena. “It wasn’t the same enthusiasm at the start [of Game 5],” said Fluker’s co-worker Sharone Thomas. “But we still have faith.”

Fluker was so frustrated he couldn’t even watch Game 5, and plans to check in again only if there is a Game 7. Frustration aside, he doesn’t subscribe to this Cleveland curse theory even with the dearth of major sports championships in about 45 years.

“I’ve heard that, but I’ve grown away from that,” Fluker said. “What happened in the past should be in the past. I have a theory that everything is set up for the Cavs to play the Lakers in the Finals. Since the Cavs won the first eight games [of the playoffs] in such dominant fashion, there has to be some suspense on the Eastern side.”

So very nice of the Lakers to help out on that front too.

If the Lakers carry the cred of celebrities, the vibe in Cleveland is deeply rooted in the family.

“It’s a family-oriented city and a lot of things to do with the kids,” Godsick said. “Families going to sports games is a long tradition, gets passed down generation to generation.”

Angst travels too. There was a temptation to start a therapy group in the stands at Game 2, before the Cavaliers won on James’ shot.


“Like a neurotic patient, Cleveland revels in darkness. They are the Larry David of professional sports,” wrote Orlando Sentinel columnist George Diaz.

If there’s any doubt, let’s turn back to our Cleveland-loving detective Mr. Jacovich, who grudgingly let someone wearing a Baltimore Ravens T-shirt walk into his office and added this afterthought:

“The Cleveland Browns drove a stake through this town’s heart a few years back when they defected to Baltimore and took a new name. In northeast Ohio, nearly every football fan’s favorite team is whoever happens to be playing the Ravens.”

Are you listening, LeBron?